Google sues US Government alleging Microsoft favouritism

Last September Google made a complaint to the US Government for excluding its suite of products from being considered for a five year $59 million dollar contract to upgrade the Department of Interior’s (DOI) hosted email system and messaging system.

The DOI’s offices have been using different 13 different messaging platforms and decided to move to a single hosted email and collaboration solution (“messaging solution” or “messaging requirements”) to support agency users.

Google argues in lawsuit it has filed against the US Government that DOI’s request for quotes (RFQ) ‘limited source justification‘ is unduly restrictive of competition in violation of the ‘Competition in Contracting Act. The lawsuit alleges the sole source procurement requirement is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion which is contrary to law

The Government stipulated clearly that the only acceptable options were Microsoft based.

Google claim in court documentation they visited representatives from DOI to provide details of their enterprise computing vision. Google say they were given verbal undertakings that the procurement process would be a fair, open and competitive one.

Google explained to the DOI how the Department could commence a cloud computing initiative. Google said it could develop a ‘Government only cloud‘ reserved for federal, state and local Governments which would address the DOI’s security concerns.

Google claim that it was informed during the course of these meetings that a solution had already been agreed upon and that Google was not eligible to compete as it’s product didn’t comply with DOI’s security requirements. Google requested detailed information regarding DOI’s security requirements however received no response.

Google contacted the DOI’s contracting officer expressing it’s concern that a brand specific solicitation would violate legislative requirements and unfairly prejudice competing proposals.

The US Government appears to want to stay with a platform on which it is already standardised, however Google’s response is that standardisation decisions cannot be used as licenses to circumvent the Competition in Contracting Act. Microsoft has been the standard for Governments in most countries.

Google had invested in crafting a specific version of it’s web based productivity software compliant with US government standards called Google Apps for Government messaging solutions. However whilst Google apps is also Government certified under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), it’s FISMA status doesn’t confer upon it the ability to handle classified information.

There is speculation the DOI had concerns about Google’s security and wouldn’t have awarded the contract to Google even had it been authorised to bid on the proposal. The Government was seeking a secure solution which can provide email, calendering and collaborative tools.

The Government’s response has been that Google simply wasn’t able to meet the stated requirements for the Government’s needs. The Government asserts that Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (‘BPOS Federal’), a new product, has two features that Google couldn’t provide, being unified/consolidated email and enhanced security.

Some suspect that these were requirements were imposed by the Government upon any vendors to eliminate proposals other than Microsoft, their preferred supplier.

The lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and alleges that the request for quotations, as framed, automatically excluded Google apps and it’s licensed reseller Onix Networking from consideration.

Google are seeking an injunction against the DOI proceeding with the RFQ or any related procurement without first complying with statutory and regulatory requirements. They are seeking a recompete proposal pursuant to which proposals would be assessed based on meeting the Government’s needs.

In their lawsuit Google points out that the DOI has had issues with downtime and Google is in a position to provide a beneficial, affordable and technically superior proposal, which uses green technology. Google asserts that it is in the position to provide the Government with the best technology and save taxpayer money.

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit is resolved. Both Microsoft and Google could fairly be characterised as enjoying monopoly status.

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